Schuchardt wins chance to join school board Second in primary, she'll face Wishnick

March 08, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Jane Schuchardt clinched second place yesterday in the primary election for the Howard County school board -- setting up a fall campaign against Francine Wishnick, the top vote-getter in the primary.

With nearly all of the absentee ballots counted, Dr. Schuchardt had widened her narrow -- but apparently insurmountable -- lead over candidate Virginia Charles to 189 votes. Candidates Arthur Neal Willoughby and Vincent Pugliese remained far behind.

Fewer than 50 votes remain to be counted next Friday, when the final batch of local and overseas ballots will be tallied and the official vote count will be completed, said Barbara W. Feaga, the county's director of elections.

Ms. Wishnick and Dr. Schuchardt will face off in November to fill the soon-to-be vacant seat of school board Chairwoman Susan Cook, who decided not to run for re-election. The winner will begin a six-year term on a school board that faces the most difficult financial times in the history of Howard schools.

As it be- came apparent yesterday that Dr. Schuchardt had secured the second spot in the fall election, Dr. Schuchardt and Ms. Wishnick began moving to distinguish themselves from each other.

For example, Dr. Schuchardt quickly seized on the fact that, of five candidates in the primary, three former teachers -- herself, Ms. Charles and Mr. Pugliese -- together captured nearly 60 percent of the vote.

"I think it shows that the voters are looking for a recent educator on the board," said Dr. Schuchardt, a retired Howard teacher who has a doctorate in education.

Ms. Wishnick -- a community activist who has served on such groups as the Columbia Council, the Oakland Mills village board and the Oakland Mills Middle School PTA -- dismissed that analysis.

"For example, people who were voting for Vince [Pugliese] were voting for a shake-up of the system," she said.

Ms. Wishnick also said she was reluctant to characterize geographic results as being indicative of support in the general election.

In the primary, Ms. Wishnick ran strongest in Columbia. Dr. Schuchardt made her best showings in Ellicott City and western Howard, areas with which she has been personally and professionally connected. Ms. Charles, who lives in North Laurel, did very well in southeastern Howard.

"The general election is a whole new ballgame," Ms. Wishnick said. "Voter turnout was very low, and many who came out to vote did not vote for school board. We have a lot of voters to reach out to for the general election."

Both candidates agreed that the one-on-one fall campaign will allow them to debate the issues more substantively than they did during the primary.

"We'll really be able to get into what we think is best for the school system," Dr. Schuchardt said.

Forums and debates in the five-candidate primary rarely were anything more than general discussions about such issues as academic excellence and fiscal responsibility.

"We're going to have to spell out what we mean by these cliches," Ms. Wishnick said. For example, she said she plans to question Dr. Schuchardt on her campaign phrase "back to the basics."

"What exactly does she mean by that?" Ms. Wishnick asked.

To which Dr. Schuchardt replied: "We'll be getting into the specifics as the campaign goes on."

Among the other issues that the two candidates said will come up in the campaign is the school system's soon-to-completed middle school evaluation, the financial outlook of the system and county, the best ways to improve student discipline and the state's community service requirement.

Both candidates said they plan to take a brief break from the campaign and then resume visiting schools, attending PTA meetings and raising funds next month. But the campaign likely won't heat up until September.

Meanwhile, Ms. Charles said yesterday that she plans to run again for the school board in two years, when the terms of two board members will expire.

"It's disappointing, but it was an interesting experience," said Ms. Charles, who spent most of the campaign out of the country on a long-planned trip to India with her husband. "I find it most disappointing that so many voters decided not to even vote for school board."

Nearly one in five voters in Tuesday's primary didn't mark a choice for the school board, indicating the apparent low interest in the relatively low-key campaign.

This school board election was the closest race in Howard since 1990, when Charles I. Ecker beat incumbent M. Elizabeth Bobo for county executive. Also that year, Christopher J. McCabe had to wait until the absentee ballots were counted to guarantee his win over Edward J. Kasemeyer for the state Senate.

The unofficial vote tally for the school board, including yesterday's absentee ballots:

Ms. Wishnick, 7,548 votes, 24.94 percent.

Dr. Schuchardt, 6,851, 22.63 percent.

Ms. Charles, 6,662, 22.01 percent.

Mr. Willoughby, 4,684, 15.47 percent.

Mr. Pugliese, 4,524, 14.95 percent.

The Howard County Board of Elections will have about 35 to 40 ballots to count next Friday -- ballots that were received Tuesday and Wednesday -- as well as any overseas ballots that arrive between now and then, Ms. Feaga said. She added that she expects the board will receive only about 10 overseas ballots in the next week.

Pub Date: 3/08/96

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